Ron Francoeur, a lineman with Central Maine Power, works on lines on Turbats Creek Road in Kennebunkport where a utility pole snapped in half after a tree came down on wires on Dec. 23. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Central Maine Power and its business and local government allies are fighting back against accusations by Maine’s public advocate of incurring excessive costs to quickly restore power following back-to-back storms last year.

The Office of the Public Advocate in June accused CMP of regularly hiring an “excessive number of external contractor crews for storm restoration, including for relatively minor storms.” It said in September that regulators should bar CMP from recovering from ratepayers $53.6 million in storm-related costs that overall amounted to more than $125 million.

“CMP is required by law to tell the PUC how many crews to call in from out of state,” Public Advocate William Harwood said Tuesday in an interview. “They chose not to follow the policy and spent additional money.”

Harwood said the Augusta-based utility was looking to burnish its image with quick action to restore electricity at an unacceptably high cost. As climate change threatens to increase the number and severity of storms, CMP and its customers will be forced to consider how much they want to spend to turn the electricity back on, he said.

“How do we balance (the need) to get the lights back on and keeping electricity affordable?” he said. “It can’t be about public relations and a consumer attitude at any given time.”

In documents filed Tuesday with the PUC, the utility said regulators should reject the public advocate’s proposed disallowance of costs and instead find that CMP “acted prudently in restoring electric service after the 2022 storms at issue.”


Prudence is a standard of review used to judge a utility’s performance and decisions. If a utility is found by regulators to have acted prudently, it will be allowed to recover costs from ratepayers. If a utility acted imprudently, according to regulators, it will be not be permitted to recover costs from ratepayers and instead may have to tap its earnings, potentially inflaming investors.

CMP will submit adjustment requests in March and a decision by regulators is expected in May, according to a PUC spokeswoman.

In 2022, CMP faced an angry public less than a year before a statewide vote – ultimately unsuccessful – seeking to replace it and Versant Power with a publicly owned utility. The utility said it restored power “as quickly and safely as possible” after each 2022 storm. For example, restoration efforts for a winter storm that began Dec. 23 took about three-and-a-half days, which is within the estimated restoration time range in CMP’s emergency response plan for a storm of that magnitude, the utility said.

“This represents a tremendous success, which minimized the number of customers that were without power on Christmas and during the days between Christmas and New Year’s,” CMP said in its filing.

CMP also disputed how the public advocate calculated costs in a complicated set of assumptions and payments for employees such as line workers and pole diggers. To illustrate the scope of its work, CMP said back-office support prepared more than 3,000 sandwiches for workers in the wake of the Dec. 23 storm.

At a hearing Tuesday, George O’Keefe Jr., Rumford’s economic development director, asked the PUC to end discussion of 2022 storm costs. The approach by the public advocate’s office is “profoundly flawed” and quick restoration of electricity is potentially life-saving for elderly and other vulnerable residents, he said.


The public advocate has “clearly and publicly defined fast and capable restoration of service as ‘imprudent,’ ” O’Keefe said.

“We beg to disagree. We can assure the commission that the town has never received a complaint from any resident that service was restored too quickly for their liking or that they felt their power bills were too high for the speed of restoration service they experienced,” he said.

Ehrin Simanski, an owner of two restaurants in Gardiner and Augusta, said at the PUC hearing that CMP is criticized if it restores power slowly, but also if it acts too quickly at excessive cost. “They can’t win either way,” she said.

Simanski said quick restoration of power was critical to keeping her businesses open, serving customers and keeping employees on the payroll.

In dozens of letters filed with the PUC, chambers of commerce, numerous businesses and local elected officials backed CMP’s argument that it has a strong record of quickly restoring power.

Michael Henderson, project manager at Q-Team Tree Service in Naples, said in a letter to the PUC that CMP has “consistently demonstrated” its commitment to maintaining restoration standards and “enhancing them in the face of adverse weather predictions.” He said Tuesday in an interview he had heard about the public advocate’s argument and believes CMP was “criticized wrongfully.”


“I wanted to reach out any way I could,” Henderson said Tuesday.

Kevin E. Johnson, the Harpswell Select Board chair, and David I. Chipman, a Select Board member, wrote to the PUC that local officials have insisted that storm recovery times be improved and CMP has made storm preparation and recovery a “top priority resulting in quicker restoration times.”

In an interview Tuesday, Chipman said town officials were asked by CMP to write the letter and agreed to do so, but were “very careful to support their efforts, not at any cost,” he said.

CMP spokesperson Jon Breed said the utility was “proactive with customers” about the public advocate’s filing with the PUC. CMP did not put out a solicitation, which he characterized as “too harsh,” but instead engaged in a “big conversation to explain to people what happened.”

“The public advocate initiated this,” Breed said. “There was a whole day of news coverage. This received a lot of attention. We explained what the filing was.”

The PUC has scheduled an in-person hearing for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: